Listen more, carp less on pension fix

House Speaker Jeff Hoover said there’s more work to be done on the pension proposal.
House Speaker Jeff Hoover said there’s more work to be done on the pension proposal.

Although Gov. Matt Bevin is roaming the state selling his 505-page public-pension overhaul by demonizing critics and overstating its merits, his party’s legislative leaders seem to understand that they need to listen more and carp less.

“We’re listening to groups that are affected by this,” House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said Tuesday. “We are trying to work on solutions, we are not giving rhetoric to people. We are not calling people names,” agreed House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster.

There’s a lot to learn, as has become evident as people outside the small circle that drafted it begin to plow through the bill.

For example, teachers would be required to pay 3 percent of their earnings into a retiree health insurance fund that’s not in financial trouble. This would be in addition to the 3.75 percent they already contribute.

Even more remarkable, that payment, estimated at $243 million a year, would reduce what the state pays in by — $243 million. In other words, it’s a shell game that benefits the state through an additional tax on the teachers. That, Hoover told the Courier-Journal, “was a surprise to many of us.”

Also, sunk deep in that huge bill is a provision allowing local school districts to reduce or eliminate paid sick days for teachers.

“We’re a profession that’s 85 percent women, who have babies, who need to take maternity leave,” Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winker said, “what are people supposed to do, just take off work without pay?”

“We’ve got staff looking at some alternatives,” Hoover said.

Despite all the shouting, fear mongering, magical numbers and confusion, the pension problem is essentially a revenue problem.

One of the alternatives staff, and legislative leadership, must look at for the entire pension problem is revenue.

Shell games like the proposal to tax teachers to lighten the load on the state amount to the opposite of the hundreds of incentives legislators regularly pass for favored businesses and industries. Those giveaways have become so huge that Kentucky now forgives more revenue than it collects.

Passing this proposal won’t balance the state’s budget, far from it.

Kentucky will still be on the hook for decades for pensions already earned plus contributions to match the individual savings accounts, and the enormous cost of converting all the systems. That doesn’t take into account the eventual cost as former public employees retire with little to live, and pay taxes, on.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Hoover said. Agreed.